Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Reverse evolution DOES happen

Or so it would appear. Turkish scientist Uner Tan, who first announced this idea two years ago, has now been vindicated in his pronouncement that such a genetic retrogression was possible.

And, in apparently being proven right, he has overcome the shameful cultural imperialism of a renowned British scientist that I described when Tan first announced his startling findings.

To go back, in 2006, Tan announced he had found an apparent case of “reverse evolution” in a few Anatolian peasant families walking on all fours. While ideas of retrograde evolution had already been in the air, it had never been considered a realistic thing to happen among Homo sapiens, let alone the idea of proving it genetically.

Well, the new news is that, as linked above, Tan has found just such a genetic cause. He had, back in 2006, said that with colleagues, he mapped the defect to a region of the genome called chromosome 17p, a site of some of the biggest genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees. As World-Science noted, researchers have also recently linked bipedalism to 17p.

Here is where the cultural imperialism I referenced before comes in. Tan made this claim about what happened after he announced his discovery:
He claims that after he invited (British scientists) to study the syndrome with him in Turkey, they “stole” his credit for discovering it, sold the story for an upcoming BBC documentary and — worst — paid the victims’ family to stop cooperating with him and other researchers.

Chief offender? Internationally renowned psychologist and cognitive scientist Nicholas Humphrey. Humphrey then, essentially, threw Tan under the bus, calling his theories “bizarre” after basically bribing the families not to cooperate with Tan any more. This was instead of supporting the research of Tan, which might be more difficult in a primarily Muslim country, albeit a secular state.

Well, now, Tan has the last laugh, or the last research triumph, over Humphrey. Tan and colleagues have identified a gene linked to the condition, which they call Unertan syndrome. And, they’re being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which World Science says is one of the three most prestigious scientific journals, according to Thompson Scientific. In other words, it ranks right behind Science and Nature. Take THAT, Nick Humphrey:
The new paper, co-authored with six of Tan’s colleagues including his wife, Meliha, reports that a responsible mutation has been found in two of four families that by now have turned up affected by “Unertan syndrome.”

“Human molecular genetics in Turkey is ‘on the map’ with this elegant analysis,” said Mary-Claire King, a geneticist at the University of Washington and an editor of the Proceedings.

Some scientists claim that the move to bipedalism involved many genes, therefore reverse evolution in walking wasn’t likely. Tan says, on the contrary, he thinks multiple genes may be involved with at least some of the afflicted people he has studied.

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